After a couple of seasons of huge, depth-building recruiting classes, the Tennessee football team should take a slimmer haul of prospects during the 2016 cycle.
They'll look to address some major needs and depth at other positions in a class that will likely fall far short of the allotted 25 thanks to classes of 32 and 29 in the past two years.
Even so, the battle for some of the Southeast's top prospects will heat up with the weather, and it appears that UT is in more than its share of neck-and-neck heats. Tennessee looks like it's focusing on three major battlegrounds this year, and all three—in-state, Georgia and North Carolina—are represented here.
With so many slots to fill at this time of year, any list like this is subjective, but a clearer picture of top targets is emerging.
If the Vols can land some of these guys, they'll be on their way to another strong class.
Some positions such as running back, safety, wide receiver and offensive tackle still need impact players. Others, like defensive end and linebacker, are areas where the Vols have healthy depth but are chasing top prospects.
UT is going head-to-head with some of the nation's top programs for these players, but coach Butch Jones has proven over and over that he's a force to be reckoned with on the recruiting trail, so these next few months should be fun.
Let's take a look at some of the Vols' top targets at this point in the 2016 cycle.
It was a solid NFL draft weekend for the Georgia Bulldogs, as they had five players selected in the draft ceremony in Chicago. Todd Gurley, Chris Conley, Ramik Wilson, Damian Swann and Amarlo Herrera did great things for the Bulldogs during their careers, and they look to do the same thing on Sundays.
Now the Bulldogs have to move forward and replace the players who have gone on to do bigger and better things. Some of the players who will take the place of the draftees have more than enough experience, while there are others that have seen some playing time, but the starting role will be very new to them in 2015.
So here’s a look at the players who are replacing every former Bulldog taken in the 2015 NFL draft.
The Texas Longhorns had five players selected in the 2015 NFL draft, their most since 2010. Per SB Nation's Jason Kirk, that figure also tied them for the sixth-most selections of any college program.
On the flip side of that coin, the Horns now have to replace five pro-level talents, most of whom had unique and essential roles on the team. First-rounder Malcom Brown will be the toughest to replace, though his fellow selections each had key roles as well.
As the Horns cycle in a big crop of young talent, their ability to plug guys into multiple roles diminishes. You simply can't trust a freshman or a former backup to handle being moved all over the field.
That said, it's difficult to predict how each player's production will be replaced beyond simply filling open roles.
Urban Meyer and Ohio State have been on an absolute recruiting tear over the last two months.
Since the start of spring practice in early March, the Buckeyes have gained commitments from 10 prospects for their 2016 and 2017 classes. Two of those verbal pledges came last week when 4-star offensive tackle Michael Jordan and Drue Chrisman—the nation's No. 1 punter—announced their commitment to Ohio State.
On top of that, the Buckeyes' coaching staff spent a lot of time on the road targeting new players. In fact, Ohio State offered seven new prospects last week, equaling the total number of offers it had sent out in the previous four weeks combined.
Here's a look at the Buckeyes' new targets.
Kyle Davis, 4-Star Wide Receiver (2016)
After losing Justin Layne to Michigan State two weeks ago, Ohio State has really picked up its pursuit of top-flight wide receivers. The Buckeyes recently got in the mix for 4-star Javon McKinley, and last week, they re-engaged 5-star Nate Craig-Myers, who decommitted from Auburn on Wednesday.
They also offered current South Carolina commit Kyle Davis.
The standout from Lawrenceville, Georgia, is a 4-star prospect and the No. 58 overall recruit in the country. And even though he has already committed to the Gamecocks, schools haven't let up in his recruitment, as Alabama, LSU, Notre Dame and Texas A&M have all offered in the last two months in addition to the Buckeyes.
Rated the No. 5 wide receiver in the country, Davis doesn't have elite speed, running a reported 4.64 40-yard dash. But at 6'3" and 212 pounds, he brings a physicality to the receiver position that sets him apart. He isn't afraid to lower his shoulder and go through a defender, and he's athletic enough—possessing a 48-inch vertical jump—to catch the ball in traffic.
It'll be very hard for Ohio State to pull Davis from the SEC footprint, though, as it appears his commitment to Steve Spurrier is solid.
Jeffrey Okudah, 5-Star Safety (2017)
Ohio State dedicated the rest of its attention to its 2017 class, and the star of the group who was offered last week was Jeffrey Okudah.
Rated a 5-star prospect out of Grand Prairie, Texas, Okudah is one of the most sought-after recruits for 2017, already boasting 28 offers from Division I programs. That group is highlighted by Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas and USC, but the home-state Baylor Bears are the current leader for his services.
Can the Buckeyes change that?
Meyer and his staff have had success recruiting in the Lone Star State in recent years, pulling players such as Demetrius Knox, Dontre Wilson and J.T. Barrett to Columbus. But those were players who were recruited by Tom Herman, who has strong ties to Texas.
But that's why Meyer replaced Herman with Tim Beck, who held the same position at Nebraska and recruited Texas frequently for Bo Pelini.
Beck's ability to recruit the talent-rich state became immediately apparent when Tristen Wallace, a 4-star quarterback from DeSoto, Texas, announced his verbal pledge to the Buckeyes' '16 class.
Ohio State is hoping Beck can work his magic again.
Micah Clark, 4-Star Offensive Tackle (2017)
Micah Clark headlined a trio of New Jersey prospects the Buckeyes offered last week.
A 6'5", 265-pound offensive tackle, Clark looks more like a collegiate sophomore than he does a teenager preparing for his junior year of high school. His incredible build—paired with a surprising athleticism—has helped him land offers from Alabama, Clemson, Miami, Michigan and Michigan State.
But checking in as the No. 68 recruit nationally and the No. 10 offensive tackle overall, more schools will certainly be throwing their hat in the ring.
The Buckeyes can pitch a unique vision to Clark, though. Meyer has already secured a commitment from the nation's top offensive tackle commit for 2017 in 5-star Josh Myers, and if he can convince Clark to join the ranks, that could be the foundation for one of college football's best offensive lines.
Other Offers from the Week
Fred Hansard, 4-Star Defensive Tackle (2017)
Jerry Jeudy, 4-Star Wide Receiver (2017)
Dalyn Wade-Perry, 4-Star Defensive Tackle (2017)
Tony Gray, 4-Star Offensive Tackle (2017)
All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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Nebraska football fans watching the NFL draft had to wait until the second day to see the first Cornhusker alum go off the board. Ameer Abdullah went in the second round to the Lions, Randy Gregory went (finally) in the second round to the Cowboys and Kenny Bell went in the fifth round to the Buccaneers.
So who will take their place? Which players will step up and replace the NFL-level production provided by Abdullah, Gregory, and Bell last season? With the help of a projected depth chart from Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald, here’s at least some potential replacements.
Terrell Newby for Ameer Abdullah
This is probably a little misleading. Newby looks to be in prime position to get the first crack at the lead I-back role for Nebraska in 2015. But McKewon thinks (and with good reason) that Newby will be at least the nominal starter next season.
That may not mean as much with Nebraska’s stable of backs (and with a new head coach and offensive philosophy). And there’s no doubt that none of Nebraska’s I-backs will be the focus of NU’s offense and a team leader the way Abdullah was last year.
But if there’s anyone that will fill the Ameer-shaped hole for Nebraska next year, Newby looks like the man who will get the first shot at it.
Marcus Newby for Randy Gregory
OK, hear me out. I know Newby is a linebacker and isn’t even guaranteed a starting job next year. But Gregory was always undersized for a defensive end, making up for his lack of size with freakish athletic ability.
What Gregory’s real talent was for the Blackshirts was rushing the passer. In both 2013 and 2014 (according to CFBStats.com), Gregory led Nebraska in sacks. Newby had one sack in eight appearances. More importantly, though, his appearances were mainly limited to passing situations where his role was to rush the passer.
Sure, Gregory was an every-down defensive lineman at the collegiate level, not just a pass-rush specialist. But where Gregory will be most missed by Nebraska is in his ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks. Don’t be surprised to see Newby fill that role next year—if he doesn’t beat David Santos out for the weakside linebacker job altogether.
Jamal Turner for Kenny Bell
Yes, De’Mornay Pierson-El is likely to be Nebraska’s most dangerous weapon at receiver. But Bell provided more than just a deep threat—he also provided leadership and toughness. And while Pierson-El’s talent is undeniable, he hasn’t even played a full year at receiver.
Turner, on the other hand, will be starting his sixth year in the program after receiving a medical hardship. And with the injuries he has fought through, Turner has demonstrated a toughness and tenacity that the rest of the receiving corps can look to and emulate.
Admittedly, Turner doesn’t have Bell’s amazing hair. But Turner, more than anyone else on the roster, can replace Bell’s combination of playmaking speed and senior leadership.
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Judging on the spring game, Michigan Wolverines early enrollees Alex Malzone and Brian Cole, a pair of in-state talents, should compete for meaningful reps this fall.
They each have earned considerable praise from teammates and coaches, too. They're worthy of attention. But they're not the only ones—there is a handful of potential impact freshmen sprinkled about Michigan's 14-man 2015 recruiting class.
Zach Gentry, a 4-star quarterback, is one such candidate. At 6’7” and 230 pounds, the former Albuquerque Eldorado (New Mexico) star will enter Michigan with ready-to-go collegiate size, a set of wheels (4.68-second 40) and an arm to match.
Anything but steady, the quarterback situation is of obvious concern for the Wolverines. Following the spring game, head coach Jim Harbaugh tabbed Shane Morris as the No. 1 starter—but that was just for the time being.
As of now, the job is “wide open”—a phrase often used by Harbaugh, passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno during spring availability—and is guaranteed to no one, regardless of tenure or circumstances.
Locking down a quarterback is just one of many priorities for Michigan, which needs a true, reliable starter in order to really progress past the "hope" phase.
Already leaving scouts impressed as the “late bloomer” with immense potential, Gentry could be the answer for Harbaugh's new Michigan in 2015. If not, he'll likely, at the very least, insert himself into starter talks for 2016.
Both outcomes seem generally positive for Gentry, who could make an instant impact by simply challenging Morris, Malzone and Wilton Speight for a spot on the two-deep this season. But he doesn't necessarily have to win the top job to make a mark in 2015.
And neither do the rest of Michigan's potential impact summer enrollees, as Tyree Kinnel, Karan Higdon, Shelton Johnson, Keith Washington and Tyrone Wheatley Jr. each have the skills to dodge a redshirt and offer something substantial this fall.
During spring media sessions, secondary coaches Mike Zordich and Greg Jackson each spoke of improving their defensive backs' physical play. They like their personnel, but they'd like to get more out of them.
At 6’0” and 205 pounds, the 4-star safety Kinnel certainly has the size to assist in that regard.
Versatile, intelligent and quick and already gaining attention from coaches, Kinnel could easily find his way into the two-deep this fall. The only guaranteed No. 1 spots belong to Jabrill Peppers, a nickel, and Jourdan Lewis, the best cover corner on the team.
The door is open for at least one spot in the secondary, just like it is at the running back position—the backfield is far from secure. As of today, Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith appear to be the leaders of the pack. But that's by default. Ty Isaac, a redshirt sophomore transfer from the USC Trojans, may end up becoming the top option.
In all likelihood, Green, Smith and Isaac will compose the main trio, but don't rule out Higdon—the 5’10”, 190-pound Floridian may just end up as a situational back or, dare it even be suggested, crack to the top three.
Drake Johnson, a redshirt junior, is coming off another ACL injury, so it could be some time before he pushes the competition. Justice Hayes just graduated and plans to play elsewhere. Although rarely used, Hayes saw action as a reliever. If he shows out during camp, Higdon could get those reps—and maybe more—this season as a true freshman.
At one time, Shelton Johnson appeared to be on his way to the Florida State Seminoles, one of college football's heavies. However, he made the late decision to play for the Wolverines, a team with two of the best defensive minds in the NCAA: defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and D-line coach Greg Mattison.
With their guidance, the 6’5”, 220-pound defensive end out of Florida may progress to two-deep status within just a few weeks. Now that Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer are gone, Durkin and Mattison will be on the hunt for aggressive pass-rushers.
Luckily for Durkin, Mattison has already groomed a troop of D-liners, so there is no real sense of urgency when it comes to developing Johnson. He'll either see the field this year, or he won't. Having Johnson contribute early would be great from an (his) experience standpoint, but shelving him may be of great benefit in the long run.
File Johnson under the “able” category, though.
On national signing day, Harbaugh gushed over Washington's athletic prowess. At 6'2" and 170 pounds, Washington is built to torch the field as a return weapon or receiver. He's capable of dabbling in the secondary if needed, too. Versatility in any form is usually a good thing, and that's why Washington should be viewed as a potential impact freshman.
He may get stuck behind Peppers and others in the return game. And really, the Wolverines have a logjam of unused receivers to sift through prior to Week 1 against the Utah Utes. He may not get immediate reps there, either.
But why not Washington? He has the ultimate “I'll show you” attitude, evidenced by his impromptu 40-yard dash in front of Durkin and Harbaugh prior to signing, per MLive's Nick Baumgardner:
They didn't believe him, but Washington wasn't having it. He looked them both straight in the eye and basically told them not to question him.
"They told me they had heard I was pretty fast, and I told them I'd run a 4.3," Washington recalls. "And they were like 'we don't believe you.'
“So I just said, OK, I'll run one for you right now outside. Let's go."
Washington is probably not the only recruit to display that type of confidence, but it's that type of confidence that leads to success. Visualizing him doing something worthy of having his name called on TV this season isn't out of the realm of sensibility.
The son of the running backs coach and Michigan legend, Wheatley enters Michigan with a clear path to playing time: Jake Butt, the team's No. 1 tight end, is coming off an ACL injury and needs time to fully recover—that's fully recover, not just enough to get on the field.
Plus, Devin Funchess, the former starting tight end/receiver, skipped his senior year to hop in the NFL draft. That worked in his favor, as the 6’5”, 230-pounder was selected in the second round by the Carolina Panthers.
Michigan needs another reliable big target. Butt is 6’6” and 249 pounds. A.J. Williams, the other candidate, is 6’6” and 285 pounds. Wheatley is 6’6” and 260 pounds, fitting both size and position requirements.
And he can play defensive end; he may not have to do so at Michigan but having two-way knowledge helps.
Open the door for Wheatley this fall. He should be in there as an instant contributor.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references were obtained firsthand by the writer via press conference, press release or other media availability. All recruiting information comes by way of 247Sports.
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